First trial since March wraps up despite low juror turnout

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Protective partitions surround each seat in the jury box to lessen the spread of the coronavirus during court hearings.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The first criminal trial held in San Diego Superior Court since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic concluded Friday, though court officials are hoping for a larger juror turnout going forward to help chip away at a massive trial backlog resulting from pandemic-related court closures.

According to the San Diego Superior Court, only 41 people reported for jury duty at the downtown San Diego courthouse on Tuesday though around 800 summons were mailed out to county residents. Despite the low turnout, a jury was impaneled in the case of 61-year-old John Homer Scarborough, with verdicts rendered on Friday morning.

Many who were summoned to court requested postponements of their jury service prior to Tuesday, while hundreds of others simply never responded or showed up.

“Thank you for being here,” San Diego County Superior Court Judge Frederic Link told the jurors who found Scarborough guilty of willful cruelty of an elder and assault in connection with an altercation the defendant had with an 87-year-old man at a North Park grocery store earlier this year.

“This is the first jury trial because of the pandemic. You showed up. We really appreciate it. It’s important,” said Link, who told jurors the court has 2,700 pending felony cases and 3,000 misdemeanor cases slated for trials.

Since mid-March, San Diego County courthouses have been largely closed to the general public, with most matters held remotely, in which neither defendants, nor attorneys have appeared in person.

Trials were on hold as the court system grappled with the obstacles involved with bringing members of the public into the courthouses for jury duty. Following nearly six months without trials, jury summons were mailed out last month for the first time since the pandemic began.

The jury in Scarborough’s trial heard witness testimony and attorney arguments in a retrofitted courtroom featuring acrylic panels between each seat in the jury box. The county’s other courthouses in Chula Vista, El Cajon and Vista have not yet had their courtrooms outfitted with similar protective measures.

The court is slated to start another jury trial on Monday at the downtown San Diego courthouse.

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